Thursday 15th March 2018 – Stayers’ Hurdle

written by Daniel Roe

Until this weekend, the Stayers’ Hurdle was the most open of the four championship races at Cheltenham from a betting point of view, with a favourite as big as 9/2 in places. Despite losing the current champion over Christmas, the great Nichols Canyon, it’s the one of the four championship races I would argue has had horses consistently running themselves into contention constantly this season which makes it especially interesting from a betting point of view.

The latest favourite is Supasundae, who has always been fairly prominent in the market, although was available at a double-figure price two months ago. Following his victory in the Irish Champion Hurdle he’s now generally 4/1 for the Stayers’ Hurdle, with connections seemingly unwilling to abandon the long-standing plan of going for Thursday’s centre-piece in favour of the (arguably) more illustrious Champion Hurdle. While such strength in their convictions is to be applauded, especially from ante-post punters, it must be noted that Supasundae is definitely not short of speed and would almost certainly find himself in the frame of the two-mile race based on his performance at the Dublin Racing Festival. I wouldn’t have such a strong opinion of him in the Stayers’, however. He’s raced twice over staying trips – once in the Liverpool Hurdle and once in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown – and, while there’s no shame in going down narrowly to either Yanworth or conceding weight to Apple’s Jade, horses who would almost certainly make up the top two of this market here were they confirmed for this, I’m not convinced he shaped like a true stayer in either race. He could find even further improvement following a career best when defeating Faugheen, and he has that important Cheltenham form, but he needs to on what will be his toughest stamina test to date.

One who I wouldn’t have stamina reservations over is Sam Spinner, who was 9/2 favourite for this after a comprehensive victory in the Long Walk Hurdle when beating the mercurial L’ami Serge with some in hand. He has improved significantly with every run this season, and with only seven hurdle races under him there’s no reason why the five-year-old couldn’t improve again come March. His two most impressive wins came when making all on soft ground, but he’s got better ground form in the book and has proved he doesn’t have to dominate. By my reckoning, he’s going to need to find half a stone of improvement to match last year’s winning performance, but he’s a dour stayer, he’s unexposed and seems tough enough for this race. The 4/1 on offer seems perfectly fair for an improving stayer who could be anything, although it won’t be my bet.

Beyond the front-two, the Stayers’ Hurdle market is a bit of a mess at the moment. Penhill is generally next in, but he hasn’t been seen this season. Even with Non-Runner No-Bet, the 10/1 available is a terrible price for a horse who needs nearly a stone’s worth of improvement to be good enough. L’ami Serge is a popular each-way angle into this; he has good form at the course, we know he stays the trip and he will probably arrive at the final hurdle looking the winner. He attracts plenty of criticism for seemingly not wanting to dig deep, but he’s nevertheless a horse who will run at least to his mark of the high 150s. He’s untried over this trip on good ground, and he’ll need to find improvement for it, but he’s trained by a Festival genius so it wouldn’t necessarily be out of the question for him to do so.

The New One is perhaps the most consistent horse in training and as reliable as an ex-council house. You can get him at the lower-end of the double figure prices, but stepping up to three miles for the first time as a ten-year-old isn’t the sort of profile I could back with any confidence. Fellow ten-year-old Unowhatimeanharry’s performances this season have been indicative of a horse who’s age is catching up to him, although should a gap between races rejuvenate him his form last spring would put him bang there. If you’re the forgiving type, there’s juice in the spots of 14/1 around.

The Worlds End has been a popular horse to back this season and should fare better than he has shown when on better ground, but I can’t see where the necessary improvement will come from to compete here. Wholestone, meanwhile, loves Cheltenham but I’m not convinced he’ll stay this and is unlikely to pose too much of a selection headache for Daryl Jacob, who would have the choice between him and L’ami Serge.

The one I like is LIL ROCKERFELLER, who is a forgotten horse in this market at ridiculous odds of 25/1. His race record is inconsistent, but I’m prepared to put that down to connections running him on the wrong ground and sometimes with the wrong race tactics (see Punchestown last April when he was sent off to make all). On his day, there’s no denying he’s a class act. He’s ran three times this season, winning once and massively disappointing in the other two. His win was on officially good-to-soft ground (going stick read 6.9), which is just about as slow as he wants it. The other two, meanwhile, were on going stick readings of 5.8 and 5.9 – one of these was described as ‘soft’, the other ‘good-to-soft’. He’s without a doubt a better ground horse, as proven in his performance in this race last season when he finished second. He was given a very enterprising ride by Trevor Whelan – he kept him close to the pace throughout and the horse stayed there. Turning for home he looked the winner, but he failed to steal that all-important near-side rail and Whelan had to slow him down going into the last, costing him vital momentum. He’s ultimately lost by ¾ length to Nichols Canyon, but still posted a career best performance when arguably unlucky on the run in. He looked capable of landing a prize such as this then, and this year, if he can replicate that level, the market principals are going to need to improve to even match him. He’s going to need good ground, but he’s likely to get it and I would rate him as the one to beat.

Advised bet: Lil Rockerfeller